Urging President Joe Biden to seize “a pivotal moment,” nearly 700 hundred scientists and engineers including Nobel laureates called on the administration to take a number of steps to lower the risk of nuclear war including slashing the United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons.
“We already have enough weapons to end all human life; it is unnecessary to build more.”
“We live in perilous times, perhaps the most dangerous since the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union,” said Stephen Young, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) senior Washington representative and acting director of the Global Security Program, in a statement.
“Biden should take the advice of these scientists, who are calling for sensible changes in nuclear policy that will reduce the likelihood of nuclear war,” he said. “Several of the steps recommended in the letter are ones that President Biden has previously supported.”
The Biden administration began in July its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)—a document from each administration since President Bill Clinton that lays out the current administration’s nuclear doctrine and “provides top-level guidance for all decisions made about nuclear weapons while it remains in place.“
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed last week that Biden’s NPR would be released “early next year.”
While Biden previously pledged to reduce the role of the nuclear arsenal, he’s reportedly faced pushback from U.S. allies and the Pentagon against adopting a no-first-use policy, furthering fears from arms control advocates that the upcoming NPR would be another example of the document “rubber-stamp[ing] the nuclear status quo.”
In their letter to Biden, delivered by UCS, the scientists said the U.S. needs to “dampen the renewed nuclear arms race with Russia and China” as well as “demonstrate that it is fulfilling its obligation under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) to take steps towards disarmament.”
To meet those goals, the letter calls for Biden’s NPR to declare a no-first-use policy.
“By making clear that the United States will never start a nuclear war,” the group wrote, “it reduces the likelihood that a conflict or crisis will escalate to nuclear war.” Doing so would also demonstrate “the U.S. commitment to the NPT by making clear that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others, which is an essential prerequisite to nuclear disarmament.”
The letter to Biden also called for the NPR to address the issue of how potential use of any nuclear weapon would be authorized.
“Although we have confidence in your judgment, history indicates that giving this awesome responsibility to a single person is unwise,” the scientists wrote. Requiring additional officials to sign off on such use would represent “an important safeguard against a possible future president who is unstable or who orders a reckless attack.”
According to signatory John C. Mather, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006, “Given that nuclear weapons have the potential to end human life on Earth forever, it is wise to develop as many safeguards as we can.”
“We already have enough weapons to end all human life; it is unnecessary to build more,” said Mather.
A group of over 20 Democratic lawmakers has similarly urged Biden to “reject a 21st century arms race” by taking steps including reducing the U.S. arsenal and adopting a no-first-use nuclear policy.
In a July letter led by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.), the Democrats said the NPR could be “a watershed moment” and urged Biden to “make bold decisions to lead us towards a future wherre nuclear weapons no longer threaten all humanity.”
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